‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ gets taken off a reading list for ‘making people uncomfortable’
To Kill a Mockingbird has a long history atop banned books lists, but here’s a new reason: the 20th century classic about racism in small-town Alabama “makes people uncomfortable.”
The Biloxi School District in Mississippi removed the novel by Harper Lee from an eighth-grade reading list after receiving complaints about the book’s language, the Biloxi Sun Herald reported.
“There were complaints about it. There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable, and we can teach the same lesson with other books,” school board vice president Kenny Holloway told the paper.
The book isn’t entirely banned from the school—it’s still available in the library. But the school’s eighth-graders won’t be reading it in class.
To Kill a Mockingbird was removed from a school district in Virginia after a similar complaint less than a year ago. A school in Texas gave out an alternate assignment after a complaint in 2012, and the book was banned from a school in Ontario in 2009. Oftentimes, To Kill a Mockingbird has been challenged by concerned parents but seen those challenges rejected by school boards, as happened in New Jersey, in 2007.
Harper Lee was famously reticent to give interviews right up until her death in 2016, but she wrote a well-known letter protesting a school’s decision to ban her only novel — Go Set a Watchman is technically an earlier draft of Mockingbird — back in 1966.
“Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that To Kill a Mockingbird spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is ‘immoral’ has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink,” Lee wrote at the time, ending on a reference to George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel.
The Biloxi School District says that its students will learn the same lessons—that “compassion and empathy are not dependent upon race or education”—from another text.